Monday, November 20, 2006

Abayei and Rava

Why is Abayei always mentioned before Rava in sugyos where they're both mentioned?

My theory is that it's because Abayei was, according to Encylopedia L'Chachmei HaTalmud V'HaGeonim, 34 years older than Rava. A similar reason could also be invoked for Rav and Shmuel, if I recall.

Alternatively, it could be because we virtually always follow Rava (except for the cases of Yae"l Kaga"m), and hence the gemara follows the precedent set by Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel (if this is the case, the reason given by the gemara that Beis Hillel were anv'sanim would be more of a d'rash).

My chavrusa suggested that it could be because Abayei was on a higher level than Rava, and supported this contention by a sugya (Ta'anis 21b) that said that Abayei received a greeting from heaven once a week, while Rava did only on Erev Yom Kippur.

I would be interested to see how these ideas can be applied to other frequent sparring pairs, such as Rabbah and Rav Yosef, Rav Sheishes and Rav Nachman, and R' Pappa and R' Huna b'rei deR' Yehoshua.


Spies and Kohanim

In the haftarah of P' Shelach (Yehoshua 2), Rachav twice hides the two spies that Yehoshua sends to Yericho. The first time, she quickly sticks them out of sight when the king demands that she turn them over (to which she responds that they already left), while the second time, she hides them in the flax arranged on her roof as an overnight solution where they can stay until the gates of Yericho open again in the morning and they can escape (although they ended up not even using the gates, as she lets them out through her window, which was located on the wall - perhaps she was only willing to lay herself on the line in this way once they swore to spare her life).

In first instance, rather than using the logical plural object form, וַתִּצְפְּנֵם , similar to the word used in the second instance, וַתִּטְמְנֵם, it instead uses a singular object form, וַתִּצְפְּנוֹ. One explanation given is that in this scenario, she quickly hid each one in a separate place, wherever there was room to fit them, and so the verse uses a singular object form. Yalkut Shim'oni (8) explains that the two spies were Kaleiv and Pinchas, and Pinchas did not require hiding, since he was able to make himself invisible. An interesting point, though, is that Pinchas did not claim that he had this ability due to his being the great Pinchas, but rather because he was a kohein, and, according to the verse in our own haftarah (Malachi 2:7), a kohein is analogous to a mal'ach, who can make himself invisible at will. I found this to be an interesting additional drasha on this verse, besides the more well-known one that only one who is on the spiritual level of a mal'ach can teach Torah.

On a side note, the navi makes a point of using two different words when referring to the two different forms of hiding. It's interesting, therefore, that the Yalkut Shim'oni explains the word ותצפנו as נטלה אותן להטמינם, connecting the two words together, saying that the former word meant that she took action to more securely hide them but apparently did not have time, so hid (one of) them quickly, and only afterwards succeeded in hiding the two of them.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006


Why is the name of the trop "gershayim" usually pronounced mil'ra, with the accent on the ultimate syllable (ger-sha-YIM), rather than mil'el, with the accent on the penultimate syllable (ger-SHA-yim)? The word is clearly a dualized form of the name of the trop "geresh", as the symbol for gershayim is merely a geresh adjacent to another geresh, and all other similar dualizations have accents on the penultimate syllable: yaDAyim, ragLAyim, Sh'naSAyim.

In searching for the answer to this question, I was referred to _Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Art of Cantillation_, by Joshua Jacobson, which I've found to be a wondeful references in answering the "why"s of the ta'amim and explaining how the trop of a passuk reflects its structure.

Dr. Jacobson notes that the trop gershayim is, without exception, found on words that are accented on the ultimate syllable. Therefore, in order to parallel the name of the trop to the words upon which it is found, the trop, too, is purposely mispronounced mil'ra, with the accent on the ultimate syllable. S'fardim, though, solve the problem a different way, by calling the trop "ger'shim", using the basic plural form of the word rather than the dual form, so that the accent does not have to be artifically changed.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What's in a Name?

I don't have time to examine this right now, but someone recently made an interesting point to me. On Brachos 7b, Rabbi Elazar ben P'das expounds a verse saying that "shma garim", a person's name has an effect. The context to this statement is a prior statement by R' Yochanan, who expounds the name of Rus as a reference to her being the progenitor of David. On the other hand, it's brought down in the name of the Arizal that when parents name a child, they are imbued with Ruach HaKodesh. The gemara implies that one's name is a cause, while the Arizal, who I'm certain was aware of the gemara, implies that one's name is an effect.

I suppose that one way to reconcile these ideas would be to say that that parents are provided with Ruach HaKodesh to give their child a name that reflects the natural tendencies of their child, but once the name is given, it strengthens these natural tendencies and helps bring them to fruition in the form of actions.


Nimrod defended

In defense of the numerous Israelis who have been saddled with the name of one of the larger villains in Bereishis, it should be noted that the Ibn Ezra (10:9) says that the reason why Nimrod was called a great hunter before HaShem was that "he would build altars and offer on them wild animals to HaShem". He rejects the practice of looking for meanings to names in Tanach whose meanings are not stated explicitly (thereby dealing with the big red flag that his name comes from the root meaning "to rebel"). He notes the existence of d'rashos that interpret Nimrod differently, but insists that his explanation is the p'shat.

I've found that the Ibn Ezra has a tendency to defend the border between p'shat and d'rash - see also his comments on Yiska and on the beginning of the Akeidah - which is a very valuable service in this era (both his time and ours) where p'shat and d'rash are so often conflated. He seems to have fallen out of favor, though, perhaps for this reason (or, more likely, for the reason that no one likes dikduk, which most of his comments are about).

One is m'chuyav to know the entire Torah with only the simple p'shat, one is m'chuyav to know the entire Torah with every d'rasha, and one is certainly m'chuyav to know the difference between the two.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Sha'alvim: Who's right?

I was recently reflecting to a friend on the fact that many Israelis refer to the yeshiva located in the neighborhood of this ancient Danite city as Shalabim, while the American literature for the yeshiva calls it Sha'alvim. What do the pesukim call it?

1) Yehoshua 19:40-42: To the tribe of the sons of Dan, by their families, went forth the seventh lot. And the border of their inheritance was Tzor'ah and Eshta'ol and Ir-Shemesh. And Sha'alabin and Ayalon and Yislah.

2) II Shmuel 23:8,32: These are the names of the warriors of David: Tach'kemoni who dwelt in Sheves, head of the three; he is Adino HaEtzni, who killed 800 corpses at once... Elyachba HaSha'alvoni; the son of Yashein, Yonasan.

3) I Divrei HaYamim 11:26,33: And the warriors of the soldiers: Asa'el, brother of Yo'av; Elchanan son of Dodo of Beit-Lechem... Azmaves HaBacharumi; Elyachba HaSha'alvoni.

4) I Melachim 4:7,9: And Shlomo had 12 officials over all of Israel, and they fed the king and his household; one month of the year was it upon each to feed... Ben-Deker in Makatz and in Sha'alvim and Beit-Shemesh and Eilon-Beit-Chanan.

If I understand my dikduk correctly, which I don't, the bet is d'gusha in the passuk in Yehoshua in order to seal up the preceding necessarily closed syllable containing the t'nu'ah k'tana of patach, while the bet is rafah in the passuk in Melachim because it is not needed for this purpose (as the preceding syllable is sealed up by the lamed).

My first recollection was that Israelis called it Sha'albim, in which case I would have noted how this diggush seems to follow a general pattern found in similar words - Chelbon (egg white), 'Elbon (shame), Kalbon (see Shekalim 1:6) [there must be a more general rule, but I can't quite put my finger on it right now], but I now question my recollection, and have emended the post accordingly.

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